A new Indigenous non-profit organization is seeking an ownership stake in the Trans Mountain Pipeline, saying its aim is to make sure communities along the pipeline’s route receive its benefits directly.
Nesika Services publicly launched Monday, calling itself a grassroots, community-led not-for-profit, The Canadian Press reports.
Nesika chair and founding director Tony Alexis, chief of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation in Alberta, said 14 Indigenous communities along the pipeline’s route in Alberta and British Columbia have signed on. Nesika is in the process of reaching out to all 129 communities that have been identified by the federal government as being affected by Trans Mountain to ensure they have a chance to join.
“Ultimately what we’re trying to do right now is to organize the communities,” Alexis told CP. “Once Canada has decided they’re willing to sell this pipeline, then at that time we’ll be negotiating to purchase.”
“Sad to see an #Indigenous leader who has been so well briefed on the science of #climatechange and the human health impacts of #tarsands on water and downstream #FirstNations move to acquire ownership of the doomed #TransMountainPipeline,” tweeted 350.org senior campaign specialist Clayton Thomas Müller.
The Trans Mountain pipeline carries 300,000 barrels of oil per day, and is Canada’s only pipeline system transporting oil from Alberta to the West Coast. The federal government bought it for C$4.5 billion in 2018, after Texas-based Kinder Morgan Canada Inc. threatened to scrap the pipeline’s planned expansion project in the face of Indigenous and environmental opposition.
A federal Crown corporation, Trans Mountain Corporation, is now carrying on the expansion project, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has indicated that he is open to ownership of the pipeline by Indigenous groups.
Several Indigenous-led initiatives have already come forward. Project Reconciliation is seeking a 100% ownership stake in the pipeline with no equity requirement or liability risk to Indigenous partners. Its goal is to distribute cash flow from the pipeline between the participating Indigenous community owners and an Indigenous Sovereign Wealth Fund that will invest in energy transition projects.
Chinook Pathways, which is also seeking an equity stake, is an Indigenous-led partnership formed by Western Indigenous Pipeline Group and its industry partner, Pembina Pipeline.
What sets Nesika Services apart from these other proposals, Alexis said, is that it is a true not-for-profit not backed by industry or affiliated with financial institutions or any other operating parties.
“These groups, these other groups, they are profit-oriented, which is a major conflict for Indigenous communities,” Alexis said.
“For me, as a community leader, when I look at Nesika, it provides the best opportunity for us to build our wealth and grow our communities. Resources are needed within the communities and Nesika provides that kind of opportunity for us.”
Alexis said Nesika is exploring both equity and revenue-sharing opportunities in Trans Mountain with no up-front capital requirements from participating groups.
He declined to say how a potential purchase would be financed, saying that will be determined once the government makes the potential terms of a sale clear.
Ottawa has not yet accepted any bids for the pipeline, though Alexis said he expects negotiations with interested parties to begin “within a month or two.”
Deborah Archibald, director of the centre for regulatory and governance policy at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, said the number of Indigenous-led groups now seeking a stake in the pipeline speaks volumes about the viability of the project and the capacity of Indigenous-led businesses.
“It’s a tremendous signal in terms of where Indigenous businesses are at in Canada today, in feeling that they can seriously compete in such a process,” she told CP.
“I think it bodes well for the federal government as well,” Archibald added. “Like any party selling a project, I think the federal government would be very pleased to see there is more than one interested party—and in this case, more than one Indigenous-owned interested party.”
Over the last year or so, that notionally successful project has been beset by cost overruns, allegations of a lax safety culture, fire safety concerns, loss of support from multiple insurers, and soil stability issues along the pipeline route.
There are still Indigenous communities along the pipeline expansion route that oppose the project, regardless of ownership, CP notes, and Archibald said an Indigenous equity stake won’t magically eliminate those concerns.
But she said it will go a long way toward improving some of the social licence issues that have plagued the project in the past, while at the same time marking a significant milestone in Canadian oil and gas and pipeline operations as well as Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous people.
“This will be a project in which Indigenous people are the decision-makers. They’re not being consulted by the decision-makers, they are the decision-makers,” Archibald said. “And that I think is a quantum leap forward for Indigenous people in terms of their participation in resource development.”
Nesika’s other founding directors include Chief Alice McKay of Matsqui First Nation, Coun. David Walkem of Cook’s Ferry Indian Band, and Mark Peters from Peters First Nation.
The main body of this report was first published by The Canadian Press on January 24, 2022.